Jamie Vardy: “There was something about Rochester and the Rhinos that just felt right.”  (Photo courtesy of the Rochester Rhinos)

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy has agreed to become a co-owner of the Rochester Rhinos, it was announced Tuesday morning.

Vardy has bought a minority stake in the club, which is in a four-year hiatus.

By working with team owners David and Wendy Dworkin, who took over the Rhinos in 2016 and remaining committed to the long-term success of the franchise, Vardy believed that Rochester can once again have a soccer team that can be successful.

“I’m really excited to be part of the Rhinos,” Vardy said in a statement. “I’ve been looking at opportunities in the United States for a while, but there was something about Rochester and the Rhinos that just felt right. I love the story of the U.S. Open Cup win, and although the club has been through some difficult years since, in a way that makes this more appealing to me.

“Once I started speaking to David and Wendy – and we’ve had so many conversations via video calls – I could see how enthusiastic they are about the Rhinos, and I knew that I wanted to get involved and try to play a part in helping to turn things around. It won’t be easy, but I never do anything the easy way in life!”

As part of the club’s rebirth, the Rhinos will undergo a rebrand and return to action in 2022. Vardy, 34, will continue playing for Leicester and has no intention of retiring.

The press release did not mention where the Rhinos were going to play. They had called the downtown soccer stadium home since 2006 before the team announced its intentions to go dormant after the 2017 USL Championship season. The Dworkins have said the club would return in USL League One, but that might become moot now.

The Rhinos forged a reputation as one of the best lower division teams in the USA, winning the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in 1999.

The return of the Rhinos meant that the Rochester soccer scene has gone from literally famine to feast within a relatively short time.

The Rochester Lancers and Lady Lancers have competed in the National Premier Soccer League and United Women’s Soccer since 2017, respectively. The Lancers have had an indoor team since 2011, taking a break in 2015 before returning in 2018.

Flower City Union has joined the National Independent Soccer Association and will begin playing at the downtown soccer stadium in 2022.

Vardy said that he remained focused on playing at the highest level for as long as possible.

“I can’t thank Leicester enough for allowing me to do this,” Vardy said. “They know, and I know, that it will not in any way distract me from my priority, which is helping Leicester to be successful and scoring goals in the Premier League for many more years to come.”

The Dworkins, part-owners of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, have known about Vardy’s interest in the Rhinos for more than two years and are thrilled that they will be able to tap into the expertise of one of the Premier League’s most prolific goal-scorers.

“This is a huge coup for Rochester and the Rhinos,” David Dworkin said. “Jamie Vardy is known throughout the soccer world because of his success and his inspirational story, and we are delighted that he has chosen to join us as a co-owner.

“Aside from the experience, knowledge and profile that Jamie will bring to our club, one of the things that has really shone through during our discussions with him is how incredibly passionate he is about this project. Jamie absolutely shares our desire to give Rochester a successful soccer team again.”

Wendy added: “It’s clearly been a tough time for the Rhinos supporters, and we’ve certainly felt that frustration as owners. We’ve never wavered in our commitment to bringing professional soccer back to Rochester. Hopefully this fantastic news, which we’ve been desperate to tell people about for so long, will give everyone connected with the club the belief that there are good times ahead.”

For Vardy, who went from working on a factory floor to winning the English Premier League title, a big part of the attraction with the Rhinos was the opportunity to revive the fortunes of a franchise.

Although the Rhinos wrote their name into the record books 22 years ago by becoming the only non-MLS club to win the U.S. Open Cup since the league was formed, their history has also been a story of off-the-field struggles, culminating in the 2017 season being their last.

One of the ways that Vardy would like to get the club back on track is through giving talented youngsters in upstate New York and beyond a chance to be part of a team that is built in his own image – hard-working, resilient and fueled by that underdog spirit.

An exciting partnership with the highly-respected Empire United Soccer Academy, which will operate in tandem with the Rhinos and ‘MLS Next’ will provide a pathway to the first-team for elite local players, was agreed to in August 2020 and is viewed as a hugely positive step. Vardy also has plans to bring his successful V9 academy stateside.

In the short-term, the Dworkins and Vardy will turn their attention to filling senior roles at the club, including identifying a head coach and chief business officer. Lee Tucker, who was the project leader at Vardy’s successful V9 Academy, which gave opportunities to non-league players seeking to break into the professional game, will be appointed sporting director subject to visa.

“There’s a lot to do between now and the team returning to competitive action, so I can’t wait to get started,” Tucker said.